Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms (also called smoke detectors) are the residential fire safety success story of the past quarter century. The single-station, battery-powered smoke alarm we know today has reduced the home fire death rate by half since it's been put into the market. The National fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that 94% of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm today, and most states have laws requiring them in residential dwellings.

One-half of home fire deaths occur in the 6% of homes with no smoke alarms. Homes with smoke alarms (whether or not they are operational) typically have a death rate that is 40-50% less than the rate for homes without alarms.

Working smoke alarms are essential in every household. It is necessary to practice home fire drills to be certain everyone is familiar with the smoke alarm signal and determine if there are any obstacles to a quick and safe evacuation (including the inability for some to awaken to the smoke alarm signal).

Buying a Smoke Alarm


Replace your smoke alarms once every 10 years. Be sure that the smoke alarm you buy carries the label of an independent testing lab. For a list of manufacturers that distribute smoke alarms for the hearing impaired, please call NFPA´s Center for High-Risk Outreach at 617-984-7826.

Make sure that everyone in your home can hear and recognize the sound of the alarm and knows how to react immediately. NFPA recommends that people with hearing impairments install smoke alarms with louder alarm signals and/or strobe lights to alert them to a fire.

Installing a Smoke Alarm


Install at least one smoke alarm on every floor of your home (including the basement) and outside each sleeping area. If you sleep with the door closed, NFPA recommends installing smoke alarms inside the room. In new homes, smoke alarms are required in all sleeping rooms, according to the NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code®.

Mount the smoke alarms high on ceilings or walls - remember, smoke rises. Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall; wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling. On vaulted ceilings, be sure to mount the alarm at the highest point of the ceiling.

Don't install smoke alarms near windows, outside doors or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation. Also, don't paint or otherwise "decorate" your smoke alarms, as this can keep it from operating properly.

Alarms that are hard-wired to the home's electrical system should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Maintenance Tips


Why do smoke alarms fail? Most often because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries. Test smoke alarms at least once a month by using the alarm's "test button" or an approved smoke substitute, and clean the units in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms once a year, or as soon as the alarm "chirps," warning that the battery is low. Schedule battery replacements for the same days you change your clock during Daylight Savings Time in the spring and fall. Never "borrow" a battery from a smoke alarm.

Regularly vacuuming or dusting your smoke alarm following manufacturer's instructions can help keep it working properly.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors


Often called the invisible killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide.

CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for placement and mounting height. Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer's instructions. If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the Fire Department. If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel.

Tips to Avoid CO Poisoning


  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO - only use outside.
Request a Smoke or CO Detector